As we examine in our ongoing Space Race series, one of AR’s most opportune areas is geospatial experiences. Because AR’s inherent function is to enhance the physical world, its relevance is often tied to specific locations. This is a foundational principle of the AR cloud.

For this reason, one of AR’s competitive battlegrounds will be in augmenting the world in location-relevant ways. That could be wayfinding with Google Live View, geospatial gaming experiences from Niantic, or location-specific social AR experiences like Snap’s Local Lenses.

To synthesize these dynamics, AWE Nite recently gathered a heavy-hitter panel, including some of the companies named above. We’re featuring the video and takeaways for this week’s XR Talks, continuing here in Part I with insights from Google, Niantic and ARWay.

XR Talks: AR is All About Location

First Steps

As we’ve examined, no one is more motivated than Google towards geo-spatial AR. Just like it created tremendous value indexing the web and being its relevance engine, Google is driven to do similar for the physical world. The potential value in executing this is tremendous.

And it already has a head start, given the geospatial data needed to build location-relevant AR experiences. Don’t forget, it’s spent years building Google Maps. For example, it has developed AR navigation around smartphone visual recognition, using Street View imagery.

But this is a double-edged sword. Google’s Justin Quimby asserts that consumers’ expectations are high for Google mapping products to have a high degree of reliability and accuracy. This sets the bar high for its spatial mapping efforts, which have no prior playbook.

Google has made considerable moves so far, including Lens and Live View. But these are the first few steps in a long journey, says Quimby. It will continue to populate its spatial maps with greater geographic coverage, as well as more granularity such as recognizing landmarks.

The latter is Google Lens’ most recent accomplishment. But the next frontier for Google’s geospatial efforts will be indoors. As it’s already started to do, Google will spatially map high-traffic indoor locations to provide AR navigation and visual recognition. Long journey indeed.

The AR Space Race, Part I: Google

Showing the Way

Speaking of indoor navigation, this is where ARWay hangs its hat. The company provides developer kits to build such experiences. This could include navigating a shopping mall or any other public space, which has implications for valuable utilities and monetizable AR commerce.

One of the biggest challenges according to ARWay founder & CEO Baran Korkmaz is platform fragmentation. All the major AR development platforms offer AR object persistence — Google Cloud Anchors, Apple GeoAnchors, Microsoft Spatial Anchors — that don’t talk to each other.

Among other things, ARWay is working towards a sort of translation layer between platforms and devices. The goal is for users to be able to begin navigating visually, without jumping through a bunch of hoops or hit a brick wall of incompatibility. Adoption is challenged enough already.

Panning back, this issue of platform fragmentation is a common topic in AR cloud circles. The problem is that tech giants are each building their own AR clouds. And they’re investing heavily, while incentivized by monetization potential….which sometimes requires walled gardens.

Given the size of these investments, tech giants have the right to maximize their returns. But when dealing with walled gardens, the key word is interoperability says Korkmaz. The model is the web: there are proprietary interests but common standards, protocols and languages.

The AR Space Race, Part V: Niantic

AR Accelerant

Last but definitely not least, Niantic stands alongside the above players in pursuing a many-sided AR master plan. And like Google, it has a head start as Pokémon Go’s fast growth and success has forced the company to develop deep competency in geo-relevant AR.

That development continues on many fronts says Go-To-Market Lead Meghan Hughes. This most recently includes the launch of its developer platform, Lightship. Formerly the Real World Platform, it seals Niantic’s fate as an AR platform — a direction it’s been headed for a while.

Though the company has risen to prominence — and sustained financial performance — through Pokémon Go, the platform is its long-term play. This approach could bestow more sustained value and diversification by tapping into SaaS-based (or AR as a Service) revenue streams.

Like Real World Platform, Lightship will reach that goal by productizing the things that make Pokémon Go work. It packages up Pokémon Go’s architecture, geolocation capabilities, game mechanics and other key components into a geospatial AR experience creation engine.

This could be a valuable utility that lowers barriers significantly for AR developers. That could include large brands and game studios — most recently, Transformers — as well as smaller developers. In all cases, Lightship is a strong business move for Niantic and an accelerant for AR.

We’ll pause there and cue the full video below. Stay tuned for more XR Talks every Friday… 

More from AR Insider…